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What Makes For A Peaceful Religion?

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What makes for a peaceful religion?

Is a religion peaceful because the majority of its adherents believe in the idea of peace and being peaceful? Is it peaceful if you can find some peaceful verses in the religion’s sacred text or its other revered writings?

What about if the religion contains violence in its holy book? Does it cease to be peaceful? What if a group of its followers are committing or once committed violence in the name of God sometime in its history? What then?

Does that make it inherently violent?

My primary point in this article is not to try and make a case that Islam is not peaceful. I do not believe all Muslims are terrorists or violent extremists. On the contrary, most Muslims are peaceful, as are the majority of Christians. This should be obvious to every sensible person.

Instead, I would like us to reflect on the real source of religious belief and practice within Christianity, renewing our commitment to the Prince of Peace.

The source is how you determine if the religion is truly peaceful.

While I do want us to think about the real source of Islamic faith, and whether or not Muhammad clearly and consistently exemplified a peaceful religion, my aim with this article is to help both conservative and progressive Christians avoid the current cultural extremes in being followers of Christ and bearers of the truth who are called to love their Muslim neighbors.

I submit that we do not need to fear Muslims, nor should we pretend that Jesus and Muhammad are the same. They are not. Therefore, I want to encourage Christians not to echo politically correct tripe or gloss over the truth about our differences, feeling that we must do this in order to best love Muslims.

So, what makes for a peaceful religion?

I’d like to briefly address this question by first applying it to my own faith. Is Christianity a peaceful religion? How do I answer that question? How do you? And then I’d like us to think about how it should equally apply to Islam.

Finally, I’ll end with some ways I think Christians should respond in light of the conclusions I’ve drawn. Please keep in mind that this post is a brief reflection of my own personal study and current thinking on the subject.

The Prince of Peace

What is the source of the Christian religion?

If you say “the Bible” then it’s possible that you might not agree with what I’m about to say. Yes, I believe in the inspiration and the authority of the Bible, but I do so because of and in the way of Christ–the Word made flesh (Jn 1:1-14).

Let’s be clear. The source of the Christian faith is Christ himself.

That is why we call ourselves “Christ-ians” or followers of Christ. We love the Scriptures because they point the way to Christ, but we’re not following a book, we’re following Jesus. As I’ve said before, the highest view of the Scriptures is not the one that seeks to make an idol of the Bible (biblicism), but the one that allows the biblical text to exalt Christ as the living Word over all creation.

The Word became flesh. He lived, died, and was resurrected.

So, our enemies can spit on or even burn our book, but it doesn’t incite us to do violence. Yeah, it may hurt our feelings a bit, but the One we worship is alive and seated at the right hand of the Father. You can scoff at his name, but you can’t kill him anymore. He has risen and will raise all those who accept him and follow him as the resurrection and the life (Jn 11:25).

This Messiah we worship is the Prince of Peace who taught us to love our enemies and never use violence (Matt 5:38-48) Why? It’s not just because violence begets violence, but because that is what God is really like. The NT is clear that Jesus is the exact representation of his being (Heb 1:1-3).

I don’t believe in peace and praying for my enemies because I think it’s a good idea, or because it is the liberal or progressive-hipster thing to do these days. I believe it because Jesus told me if I want to follow him I must take up my cross and walk his road (Lk 9:23). It doesn’t need to make sense to me, nor does it need to be popular or politically correct. I obey because Jesus said so.

Our King and his Kingdom win by dying, not by killing.

So I don’t try to save my life by proof-texting Jesus in some pathetic attempt to justify violence, or even violent self-defense. When Jesus disarmed Peter with his rebuke to put away his sword, he disarmed me and every other Christian that professes “Jesus is Lord” (Rom 10:9), i.e. Caesar and the NRA are not.

Taking up your cross means first putting down the sword.

But what about the violence in the Old Testament? That’s usually where people go when they want to justify “Christian” nationalism and violence, or an atheist wants to be critical of the Bible. Didn’t God command violence in the OT?

If you’re interested, I’ve written about my views of the Scriptures and how I understand what is going on in the OT in a post called How I View Christ & the Scriptures. But the short of it is this… that was then, this is now.

Disciples of Jesus have been given a new covenant (testament) through his broken body and shed blood on the cross–the ultimate instrument of violence. The old has gone, the new has come. There is a clear division in our Bible so we don’t miss this. Yet some still fail to see the real significance of Christ’s coming.

The death of Jesus brought an end to belief in a tribal warrior God.

Violence in the OT is bound by its historical context within the narrative of Israel. There are no commands to do violence or promote it within the words of Jesus. On the contrary, we have a peaceful Jesus consistently showing us and telling us to do good to those who hate us. True sheep listen to the Shepherd.

If you accept that Jesus is what God looks like and has always looked like, then it not only requires that you read the OT with that in view, but it means that you also accept that any violence done after Jesus (which started about 200 years after Christ with the emperor Constantine) is in direct violation to the life and teachings of Jesus–the source of the Christian religion.

If you want to know if a religion is peaceful, you look to its leader. When it comes to Christ, the leader of the church, there is no shifting of his person or exceptions in his call to peace. None whatsoever.

He is the same yesterday and today and forever (Heb 13:8).

Jesus was peaceful. Therefore, true Christianity will always look like Jesus.

The Cross & the Crescent

So, what about Muhammad & the Quran? Is Islam peaceful?

I readily acknowledge that the majority of Muslims are peaceful people, but what about Muhammad? Can we say with confidence that Muhammad was a man of peace? If the leader and prophet Muhammad was not a peaceful person, what does this say about Islam? Can peaceful Muslims trust a violent Muhammad? This is an honest question for the honest person.

And it is a key point of civil conversation when evangelizing Muslims.

If the leader called for both peace and violence, which is clearly the case in the Quran and in Islamic history, who gets to speak for Islam? If Muhammad is the prophet and final revelation of Allah, on what grounds and on whose authority does one get to say at the heart of Islamic doctrine is a peaceful religion?

I have read the Quran. Have you? If you haven’t, you should.

A major difference between the New Testament and the Quran is that the NT is written from multiple authors within a few decades of each other. Jesus didn’t pen a single word, but instead the apostles, inspired by the Holy Spirit, tell us about Jesus and invite us to accept him and follow his teachings.

The Quran on the other hand comes entirely in Arabic from Muhammad as dictated by the angel Gabriel over a period of 23 years, from Islam’s peaceful beginnings in Mecca to the violent militarism of Muhammad in Medina.

There are no “Old and New Testament” divisions within the Quran, none that are obvious to the lay reader, that indicate what teachings of Allah via Muhammad are in effect. I’m no Islamic scholar, but this is definitely why we are seeing the radical differences of interpretation within Islam.

So which Muhammad is reflective of true Islam?

I don’t see how the 100+ violent verses are annulled (e.g. Suras 2:216; 8:12; 9:111). They read as standing commands, not bound by their historical context. And that is of course why Islamic terrorists are saying Muhammad’s final revelation from Allah (God) is in effect. It’s the Islam of Medina.

This is much more than a matter of “twisting” verses in the Quran.

Former terrorists and Islamic scholars have been testifying to this problem, despite the backlash of our so-called “tolerant” pluralistic culture where we are certain every religion is obviously peaceful at its core.

Could it be a combination of this glaring problem with Muhammad and the rise of ISIS that is resulting in mass conversions of Muslims to Jesus?

If God is working like never before to bring Muslims to a saving knowledge of Jesus, why would we turn away refugees out of fear? Also, how does it help when progressives overreact to anti-Muslim bigotry by saying that our theology and history of violence are pretty much the same?

Not only is it not helpful, it simply isn’t true to history or the context.

We need to be clear. This isn’t just about differences of Quranic interpretation, as if Christianity has the same problem with the Bible. It is about the historical figure of Muhammad, the source of Islam, calling for both peace and violence.

What do peaceful Muslims do with this conflicting portrait of Muhammad and his commands to do violence? I’ve yet to hear of a coherent Quranic hermeneutic of peace like the Christocentric one set forth by Jesus in the Bible.

Until then, I will love Muslims as Christ loves me, but I can’t reconcile the prophet Muhammad, a man of war bent on conquest, to a peaceful Islam.

The Christian Response

How then should followers of Jesus respond?

  1. Affirm the centrality and supremacy of Jesus Christ.
    Christians need to remember that the source of our faith is Christ himself. However you sort through the violence of the Old Testament, the peaceful and non-violent Jesus supersedes it as God’s final Word.
  2. Speak up and out about the true source of our faith.
    It’s time for all followers of Christ to lovingly challenge the distorted perspectives of the likes of Jerry Falwell Jr. and Franklin Graham who are shaped more by the Bill of Rights than the Jesus of the NT.
  3. Get educated and informed about the Quran.
    Buy a copy, read it, and learn about the differing perspectives of Islam. Notice its similarities and differences with your own faith. Listen to Muslims and converts to Christianity talk about the Quran.
  4. Learn about the faith of your Muslim neighbor.
    It’s easy to fear and disdain those you don’t know or understand. Seek out inroads with your Muslim neighbors. Befriend them. Invite them over for dinner or connect via social media. Jesus would and he’d like it.
  5. Lovingly rebuke anti-Muslim rhetoric from the fearful.
    Our only opinion about Muslims, peaceful or violent, should be that God loved them so much that he gave his Son for their salvation. We dare not promote or allow hateful speech/acts against those made in God’s image.
  6. Live the life that comes from the Prince of Peace.
    We live in a tumultuous time right now. Look how it presents us with opportunities to display the peace that surpasses all understanding. Be that peaceful presence. Seek to live the life God’s peace brings.
  7. Remember we do not battle against flesh and blood.
    Prayer is our warfare. Prayer shapes our worldview and enables us to love our neighbor and our enemies. Tap into the power that pushes back on spiritual evil and releases the Kingdom. And pray without ceasing.
Suggested Reading & Resources:

D.D. Flowers, 2015.

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Jumping Over Jesus

Do you see any conflict with Yahweh as portrayed in the Old Testament with the God revealed in Jesus?

I recently shared what I believe to be a Christocentric hermeneutic that not only places Jesus at the center of the salvific story told in the Bible, but that also requires all Hebrew perceptions of God in the OT to be understood in light of Christ, the final self-revelation of God.

It’s a radical hermeneutic that the Anabaptists used, which I also believe was being used by the NT writers themselves in the first century.

Whatever happened in the OT, and however you interpret the seemingly darker sides of God at work within the history of Israel, the buck now stops with Jesus. Plain and simple. While that may not solve those areas of character conflict between Yahweh and Yeshua at this point, it does settle the matter for the sake of discipleship and obedience to Christ’s commands.

Therefore, accepting that Christ is what God is like and has always been like demands a fresh reading of Scripture.

Before folks think this is “cherry picking” to suit our fancy, it ought to be recognized that Jesus did this with much of the Hebrew Scriptures. He reinterpreted the Law and the Prophets in a way that set himself up as the promised “non-violent” and peace-making Messiah—not the Messiah they expected by any stretch of the imagination.

Jesus’ interpretations bewildered and even ticked people off, especially the gatekeepers of Judaism. We need to remember that.

Those who subscribe to my blog may remember that I did a Q&A with Greg Boyd last year. Greg is currently in the process of leading his church through a sermon series on why their church is most closely aligned with the Anabaptist tradition. (Read the Anabaptist Core Convictions.)

Woodland Hills has plans to soon affiliate with an Anabaptist denomination. Greg has been sharing this radical Christocentric hermeneutic with his fellowship. This past Sunday he continued with “The Twist.”

In the following sermon clip, Greg talks about how many believers “jump over Jesus” to support their “biblical” agenda. He says they’ve not embraced Jesus as the full manifestation of God’s good will for their lives.

What do you think about what Greg has said? Do you agree or disagree?
Do you agree that we’re often guilty of mushing the Testaments together?

D.D. Flowers, 2013.


How I View Christ & the Scriptures

I’ve recently been in conversations over many different theological and interpretive issues pertaining to the Bible. In discussing my interpretations with family, friends, students, and readers of my blog, the nature and authority of the Scriptures are always brought up.

While I’ve actually been asked several times, “Do you believe that the Bible is God’s Word?”, it’s usually just insinuated in their response to being challenged on the way they’ve always read or been taught the Scriptures.

I think this happens for one or more reasons: (1) the Scriptures are rightfully regarded as authoritative among Christians; (2) I’m challenging their interpretation which they mistake for disbelief in the Bible; (3) they simply do not understand my position; (4) they are entirely closed off to learning and they prefer to shut the conversation down by underhandedly claiming I don’t believe the Bible. This is also done by claiming the Holy Spirit guided their interpretation. So, of course they must be correct, making me wrong.

Therefore, in light of these recent conversations, and because it’s long overdue, I will briefly lay out my view of Christ and the Scriptures.

Biblical Inspiration

The Bible (Old & New Testaments) is the inspired, infallible word of God (2 Tim 3:16; 2 Peter 1:20-21). I believe that the Scriptures are trustworthy in conveying God’s progressive revelation through the history of Israel, culminating in the life of Jesus of Nazareth—who is the exact representation of God in the fullness of divine, incarnational revelation (Matt 16:16, 21:33-40; Jn 1:1-14, 5:39, 8:58, 10:33, 14:9; Col 1:15-20; Heb 1:3).

Inspiration testifies to the Spirit’s activity in the lives of the prophets and apostles who penned what in time became celebrated as sacred Scripture (2 Peter 1:20-21). The testimony handed down to us in the text is reliable in its transmission, and it is trustworthy in what it intends to communicate to the ancient and modern reader about God in Christ.

I believe that saying the Bible is “inspired” (God-breathed) refers to the Spirit-revealed truth in the original, ancient context and literary genres.

It does not mean that all of the Bible should be read literally, or that your or my own interpretation is the one that’s inspired.

Therefore, interpretation requires a responsible handling of the biblical text, “rightly dividing” it in Christian community. This should be done in a spirit of grace and humility. As the church, we must recognize the difference between the inspired Scriptures and our interpretations.

Christocentric Hermeneutic

I believe Scripture should be read using a Christocentric hermeneutic (interpretation). This means that Christ is not only the center of the salvific story told in the Scriptures, but that all Hebrew perceptions of God in the OT should be understood in light of Christ, the final self-revelation of God.

To affirm that the OT is inspired isn’t to say that the Hebrews saw God in his fullness, or that all portions of Scripture are equally authoritative (e.g. Canaanite genocide, imprecatory psalms, nationalism, levitical laws, etc.).

All Scripture is subordinate to Christ. He is the reality of the OT shadows (Col 2:17). Jesus sorts out all misconceptions of God in the OT.

As Greg Boyd stated in my 3-part interview with him last year…

“The cross reveals what God is truly like and thus what God has always been like.” 

Wherever OT portraits of Yahweh do not look like Christ, I see God making significant concessions, taking the sins of Israel upon himself, and accommodating himself to their limited vision and partial revelation.

I think this fresh understanding of inspiration is found in a true Christocentric or “cruciformed” interpretation of the Holy Scriptures.

And I think this should be embraced by all Christians who affirm that Jesus is the full and final revelation of God. But instead there seems to be a bewildering confusion on this that actually makes what I’ve stated above sound dangerous, even heretical to some folks.

“Reading Scripture through a christological and theographical lens is more radical a move than we might think at first blush. In our observation, it’s rarely practiced today—even among those who claim to uphold the centrality of Christ. It’s one thing to profess to read the Scripture christologically or to agree with in principle. But it’s quite another to actually practice it.”  Leonard Sweet & Frank Viola, Jesus: A Theography, pg. xviii

How does it happen that so many in the church have failed to accept Jesus as central and supreme over the OT portraits of God?

I’m convinced that it has a great deal to do with how many Christians have learned to compartmentalize the life and teachings of Jesus, and reduced the Gospel to a “sinners prayer” salvation.

For some people, Jesus mostly said what he did for the next life, and lived the way he did to get crucified for our sins. Therefore, the incarnation as a way of setting the record straight about what God is like is lost in the midst of proof-texts and meshing the Old and New Testaments together.

It seems to have begun around the 4th century when Constantine merged the church and state. Christians began picking up the sword and justifying it in the name of the OT. Slowly but surely the church learned to ignore the negative contrast of God in the OT seen through the lens of Christ.

When this happens Jesus can be used as the cheerleader for the “Christian” state, and any other agenda that needs “biblical” justification. This method of using the OT to support anti-Christ agendas is still practiced today.

So, not only does this ignore the conflict, but in disregarding that Christ stands above the OT portraits of God, a person is short-changing, even diminishing, the cosmic importance of the incarnation.

That’s no small matter.

In other words, this implies that there is something about God that Christ doesn’t reveal to us. This seems to me to be the real threat to the inspiration of progressive revelation summed up in Christ, God in the flesh.

You may remember that Marcion (c.85-c.160AD) was excommunicated as a heretic because the way in which he dealt with the OT. Marcion went so far to say that the god of the OT was not the Father of Jesus, but a lesser deity.

While I grant that Marcion was a gnostic heretic, and wrong for the way he handled the Scriptures, he was right to acknowledge the conflicting portraits of God in the OT with Christ in the Gospels.

Therefore, I’m convinced that the Old and New Testaments cannot be fully reconciled without using a radical Christocentric hermeneutic.

The Word Made Flesh

The highest view of the Scriptures is not the one that seeks to make an idol of the Bible (biblicism), but the one that allows the biblical text to exalt Christ as the living Word over all creation. The Word became flesh, not ink.

“God’s truest, highest, most important, most authoritative, and most compelling self-revelation is the God/Man Jesus Christ. It is Jesus Christ—and not the Bible—who is the “image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15). It was in Jesus Christ that “God was pleased to have all of his fullness dwell” (Col. 1:19).” Christian Smith, The Bible Made Impossible, pg. 117.

I believe it’s important to let the Scripture be Scripture, and let Christ be Christ. That is to say that we should view the Scripture as a sign-post and a pointer to the eternal Word of God, Messiah Jesus (John 5:39). He is the true Word of God, living and active (John 1:1-14; Heb 4:12). He is not bound by the written text or dependent upon any view of inspiration.

It is because Christ is revealed in the Scriptures from Genesis to Revelation that I believe in the inspiration of the Bible. And this reminds me, and I hope you as well, that our confession and obedience to Jesus as the Word is the true arbiter of faithfulness. There is nothing else.

As the apostle Paul has written, “I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him” (Phil 3:8).

May we be found in Christ and get all of our life from him, not from our differences of opinion on theology, our varying interpretations, or our nuanced views of biblical inspiration.  

For it is Christ above all things, “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col 2:2-3).

D.D. Flowers, 2013.

Suggested Reading:


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